Pasta with Raw Tomatoes

Tagliatelle al Pomodoro Crudo

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Yes, I’m back! I hadn’t intended to be away nearly so long but there you have it. I realize that I posted the Greta introduction recently but this post needed to be published ASAP. In this part of the world, the tomato plants have reached peak production. There’s no better time to prepare  Insalata Caprese,  Panzanella Salad, and Pappa al Pomodoro, as well as today’s pasta, than right now.

Surprisingly, this dish wasn’t served when I was a boy. With Grandpa’s garden easily meeting the tomato needs of both families, it’s a wonder that no one ever used a few of them to make this pasta. I can only say that I’m glad that I came upon the recipe a few years ago and have enjoyed it every August since.

If you google Pasta al Pomodoro Crudo, you’ll find there are many recipes for the dish. In its purest form, all that’s required to prepare the sauce are ripe tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil, and salt & pepper, with pasta being the only cooked ingredient. Whether to use grated cheese when served is left up to the cook’s preferences. Some have added capers to the mix, and I myself have added anchovies. There are recipes that include onions that have been rinsed or lightly sautéed before being added to the pasta. Still more will lightly cook the tomatoes before adding the pasta. Of all the versions I’ve tried, the latter using slightly cooked tomatoes is the one I’ve avoided. For me, the taste of fresh tomatoes is what makes this dish so special. Cooking, no matter how slight, would ruin this for me. Nothing compares with the aroma of fresh tomatoes combined with basil and olive oil. When brought to the table, it’s practically intoxicating. Give it a try and I bet you’ll agree. Still not convinced? OK. What do you intend to do with all of those tomatoes you’ve been picking?

This is such a simple recipe. Just be sure to use ripe tomatoes with fresh basil and garlic. This is not the time for canned/jarred/dried ingredients. Once assembled, let the sauce rest for about an hour before cooking the pasta. (See Notes.) Lastly, the ingredient amounts listed below are merely guidelines. you may wish to have more/less tomatoes in your pasta. The same is true for the basil.

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Pasta with Raw Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 3 to 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 to 3 very ripe, medium-size tomatoes, seeded and chopped (see Notes)
  • hand-torn basil leaves, more for garnish.
  • 2 anchovies, minced + more, whole, for garnish (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 lb (150 g) cooked tagliatelle (see Notes)
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. Seed and chop the tomatoes.
  2.  In a large bowl, place the tomatoes, basil, garlic, anchovies (if using), and olive oil. Gently mix to combine. Cover and set aside.
  3. After about an hour, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and, following package directions, cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the pasta water.
  4. Add the hot pasta to the raw tomato sauce and gently stir. If overly dry, add some of the reserved pasta water to moisten. (See Notes)
  5. Move to a serving platter and garnish with more torn basil and, if using, grated cheese and whole anchovies.

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Notes

You can use any tomatoes for this recipe just so long as they are ripe. I seed “regular” tomatoes but only halve cherry tomatoes when using.

Use any type of pasta you prefer. I like tagliatelle but either penne or farfalle, for example, will work just as well.

My use of anchovies started last year when I had some leftover from preparing pizza the night before. I’ve included the little fishies ever since. No need to use them if you don’t like them.

I’ve never let the sauce sit for hours or overnight because I fear the tomatoes would lose too much of their structure. The firmer the tomato the better, in my book.

If the final dish is too dry, you can also add a drizzle of olive oil with(out) the pasta water to moisten  it.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

I’m working on it …

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

We knew summer was in full-swing when platters of Mom’s tomato antipasti appeared on the dinner table. Another easy dish to prepare, these are a wonderful way to serve ripe tomatoes without touching the stove — a blessing on many August days.  You can learn how to prepare Mom’s dish HERE.

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My Tomatoes Are In A Jam

With today’s post another short one, I thought I’d share a bit more about my Grandpa. When we last left him, he had just finished painting the trim on the two-flat’s peak and had invited the neighbors to come into the backyard to “see my tomatoes” …

(Those interested can read the painting story by clicking HERE.)

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Tomato Jam 2

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Grandpa was well-known throughout our neighborhood and he could often be seen strolling about, his hands behind his back, with his right hand holding the index and middle fingers of his left hand. The little boy across the street took note and would often mimic Grandpa as they walked together or on opposite sides of the street. For Grandpa, this was the highest form of flattery.

He did more than just stroll about, however. If he heard the rumble of heavy equipment or the whir of power tools, he would be at the job site or backyard within minutes. Having once owned a contracting company, Grandpa knew and understood quite a bit about building and repair work. It wouldn’t be long before he’d be advising the worker(s) and oftentimes he’d pitch in, showing them how whatever it was should be done. His opinion was respected and very often sought out by our neighbors and the parish.

For example, the front of our church was a massive, floor-to-ceiling mosaic depicting a number of Grandpa & Cookiesaints and religious symbols. As the church settled, a large crack began to appear in the center of the mosaic at its base, stretching upward like some leafless tree. Grandpa was called in to repair the crack and to replace the tiny colored tiles. Not long after that, following a lightning strike, Grandpa’s knowledge of masonry was required to help with the repairs to the school. As I said, Grandpa was well-known and respected.

Well, once the heavier garden work — the tilling, fertilizing, and planting — was done for the season and with no repair projects to tackle, Grandpa had time to relax. You could often find him sipping a beer while resting in his hammock under the grape arbor, listening to George Kell announce the play-by-play for the games of his beloved baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. Sometimes he watered the garden from the hammock, using a sprinkler to get those places beyond his reach. Eventually the game would end and that was cause for concern for some of the wives in the neighborhood, for Grandpa would go for a walk.

It didn’t matter who you were — neighbor, passer-by, parish priest, mail carrier, etc. — if Grandpa saw you, he would strike up a conversation and, at just the right moment, invite you to “see my tomatoes.” Within minutes, there you were, looking at his 2 dozen tomato plants, tied to their hockey sticks in neat little rows. He’d show you the brick barbecue, his very much prized Chinese pheasants, the lettuce patch, the grape vines, the potted lemon tree, and his latest attempt at growing a fig tree. Within minutes you’d be invited into the patio and he’d have a cold one in front of you before your rear end settled into your chair. What’s this? You don’t like beer? Not to worry. There was a jug of red wine under the table. Oh? You prefer white wine? There just so happened to be a jug of white wine next to the red. Well, that first beer or glass of wine led to another and another and then another. Somewhere along the line, shot glasses would appear and whiskey was introduced into the conversation. Although the length of these backyard tours varied, they usually ended in the same way, with his guest leaving the yard, though quite a bit more wobbly than when the tour first began. In fact, there were a few times when one of us kids was asked to walk his guest home.

These visits did not go unnoticed by the wives in the neighborhood and a few men refused Grandpa’s subsequent invitations. Others would accept but leave abruptly after Come Into My Parlor ...the first beer. Of course, there were a couple who, for whatever reason, accepted the invitation with no apparent qualms at all. It was after one such visit that a neighbor approached Mom, angry because her husband had ignored her wishes and had returned home moments before, more wobbly than usual. I don’t recall whether she wanted Mom to control Grandpa, her husband, or both but Mom, recognizing a no win situation, did nothing of the kind, The husband, perhaps wisely, kept his distance and I don’t recall ever seeing him in the backyard again.

That’s too bad because he missed one of the greatest parties held in our yard. It was Grandpa’s birthday, though neither Zia nor I can remember the exact one. As was the case for each of his birthdays, all 13 of us ate dinner together in the patio, with a couple of family friends seated at the table as well.  Once the dinner was finished, neighbors and friends joined the party just in time for cake and liquid refreshments. As I said, Grandpa was well-known and you never really knew who’d show up. This year, even the parish Pastor stopped by. The poor man didn’t stand a chance, for the wine, beer, and whiskey flowed freely. I’ve no idea how much time had transpired but I do know that my Dad was seated on our front porch as Grandpa walked the priest back to the rectory. (You may recall the rectory was located at the opposite end of our block.) Dad was still on the porch when the two returned a while later. Apparently, when they finally reached the rectory, the priest kindly offered to walk Grandpa home, he accepted, and so they returned. Realizing that this could go on for hours, Dad offered to walk the good priest home and sent Grandpa to bed. Oddly enough, although he was invited, our Pastor was a no-show at Grandpa’s next birthday party. That was OK, however, for another priest, a recent transfer from Wisconsin, unknowingly took his place …

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I first became aware of tomato jam last year through my blogging friend, Marie, when she posted a link to a recipe for tomato jam that used Sungold cherry tomatoes. When I mentioned it to Zia, she remembered that Grandma had made tomato jam when both she and Mom were little girls. The way I saw it, I had little choice but to make a batch, which I enjoyed very much.

This year, my tomato plants did much better than they have in recent years but the weather was far from cooperative. Though Summer started quite warmly, the sun and high temperatures soon departed, not to return until late August. Up until that time, my tomatoes grew but never got the sun and heat needed to ripen. Then, as September started, so did the ripening and soon I had more tomatoes than I could handle. That’s when I decided to revisit tomato jam, making two batches within days of each other.

Unlike last year, however, my tomatoes weren’t Sungolds. In the first batch, I used only heirloom plum tomatoes. In the second, I used an even mix of tiny cherry tomatoes and more heirloom plum tomatoes. Since my tomatoes weren’t as sweet as Sungolds, I referenced Mark Bittman’s recipe for tomato jam, as well as the one suggested by Marie.

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Tomato Jam Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3.5 lbs (1590 g) tomatoes, cored, and roughly chopped (peeling optional)
  • 2 1/3 cups sugar
  • 3 green Thai chiles chopped, seeds and veins removed (see Notes)
  • juice and zest of 2 limes
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 tsp cumin, ground
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 tsp cloves, ground
  • 2 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Place sugar, chiles, and tomatoes in a thick bottomed, non-reactive pot. Stir and allow to sit for 1/2 hour.
  2. Using medium heat, add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil, before reducing to a simmer. Stir often to prevent scorching.
  3. Continue to simmer until the mixture resembles jam. This could take as little as 90 minutes or as long as 3 hours, maybe longer. If unsure whether your jam is ready, perform a plate test. (See Notes.)
  4. Once your tomatoes are jammin’, fill sterilized jars to 1/4 inch of the rim. Place the lid on each jar and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove from the boiling water, place on a towel lined baking sheet, and place them all in a draft-free area where they will remain undisturbed for at least 12 to 24 hours.
  5. Check to make sure each jar is properly sealed and store them in a cool, dark place. Those not sealed should be refrigerated and eaten within two weeks.

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Notes

When researching the amount of time required to process these jars in a hot water bath, I came across 3 different time requirements; 5, 10, and 15 minutes. Preferring to err on the side of caution, I processed my jam for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Although I peeled the tomatoes in the first batch, it was virtually impossible to peel the dozens of cherry tomatoes, so, I didn’t. I was surprised to find there was no detectable difference in texture between the two batches and I won’t be peeling tomatoes for jam in the future.

After cooking for an hour or so, I used a potato masher to crush any of the cherry tomatoes that remained whole. This released their liquid into the pot and, I believe, shortened the cooking process.

In the first batch, I used 3 green Thai chiles, removing both seeds and veins, thinking they would be too hot if used whole. Well, I could not detect them at all. In the second batch, I used one green Thai chile, leaving seeds and veins intact as I chopped it. It’s heat was barely detectable. I’ve yet to figure out what I’ll do next time but I’ve a feeling there’s one batch of very spicy tomato jam in my future.

There are a few ways to test whether your jam will set. I use the plate test. While your jam is boiling on your stove top, place a dish in your freezer. When you think your jam is ready, take about a half-teaspoon of jam and place it on the now chilled plate. Allow the jam to rest a few minutes before using another spoon or your fingertip to see if the jam has set or is still too runny. If the latter, continue to simmer the jam while returning the plate to the freezer to await the next test.

The cherry tomatoes that I used are an heirloom variety called “Mexican Midget”. One plant will produce a great deal of fruit, though smaller than “normal” cherry or grape tomatoes. The largest of these tomatoes are no bigger than my thumbnail, with many as small as the nail of my little finger. Up until I used them to make jam, I tossed a handful of them into each of my dinner salads — and still dozens remained on the plant.

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Tomato Jam 3

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Black FigsSince this is a jammin’ post, we might as well be consistent. Today’s blast from the past is a recipe that I shared last year, Fig Preserves with Balsamic Vinegar and Black Pepper. Not only is this jam great when served with toast and, say, goat cheese, but it works beautifully when used to stuff a pork roast. WIth figs now filling our markets, this is one jam you won’t want to miss. Just click HERE for the details.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Braised Goat over RIce

Goat in the Moorish Style

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The Ketchup that Came Down the Mountain

I’ve mentioned it in the past and it bears repeating: blogging continues to surprise me in ways I never dreamt possible. One need look no further than my dining room table to see what I mean. There, in jars of all shapes and sizes, you’ll find preserves, jams. jellies, pickles, pickled peppers, brandied figs, apple sauce, corn relish, and ketchup. You may recall that I was the guy that swore he’d never can anything. Now it looks like I’m stocking a bunker for a nuclear holocaust. Look closely, however, and you’ll soon find the Belle of the Ball … well, Ball Jar. I’m talking about the ketchup and that’s the recipe I’ll share today.

Way back in September of 2011, my blogging friend Tanya, of Chica Andaluza fame, posted a recipe for “Up The Mountain Spicy Tomato Ketchup.” With this area’s farmers markets still flush with tomatoes, I bought a couple pounds and decided to give her recipe a try. Knowing how spicy things can get up that mountain, however, I did tweak the recipe to cool it down just a bit. And the result? This is one exceptional ketchup. In fact, it hardly seems right to call it ketchup for this isn’t at all like the bottle of red stuff on your grocer’s shelf — and that goes for all 57 varieties! Tanya’s sauce is so good that I actually felt like I was wasting money the last time I was without and needed to buy ketchup. But don’t just take my word for it. I’ve given jars of Tanya’s ketchup to friends and family alike, all of whom, without exception, sing its praises. And to all of my fellow Chicagoans, this ketchup is good enough to be served on a hot dog! Yes, it’s that good!

There’s only one possible issue worth mentioning. It is best to simmer this sauce slowly and to stir it frequently. If you don’t you could end up with a splattered mess or, worse yet, a scorched pan bottom. A splatter screen may help prevent the mess but a scorched bottom can ruin the entire batch of ketchup. If you suspect that the ketchup has begun to burn, do not use a spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan. That will only foul your ketchup. Better to dump the pot’s contents into a large bowl and clean the pan’s bottom before re-filling it with the ketchup and continuing the simmer. Bear in mind, the lower the simmer, the longer the time required to get a thick, rich ketchup. For me, this job will easily last a full afternoon.

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Home-Made Ketchup Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 lbs. (approx 3.5 kg) tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 4 large onions (yellow, sweet, red, or any combination), chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 2 Serrano peppers, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ tsp dry mustard
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tsp whole cloves
  • 2 tsp whole allspice
  • 2 tsp mace
  • 2 tsp celery seeds
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • nutmeg, to taste
  • salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Use a piece of cheese cloth to form a pouch into which you’ll add the cinnamon sticks, allspice, cloves, mace, celery seeds, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Use butcher string to enclose and securely tie the herbs & spices. Set aside.
  2. Place the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and garlic into a heavy bottomed saucepan over med-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the ingredients are all soft, 30 to 45 minutes.
  3. Once the tomato mixture has softened, pass it through a food strainer, food mill, or fine meshed sieve to separate peel and seeds from the pulp.
  4. Return the strained pulp to the saucepan, along with the brown sugar, mustard, paprika, cider vinegar, and spice pouch. Stir to combine over med-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and continue for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Remove the pouch.
  5. At this point, continue to simmer until the ketchup has reached the consistency you prefer. This could take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.
  6. Once it has reached the desired thickness, add cayenne pepper, ground nutmeg, and salt, to taste.
  7. Once the seasonings have been adjusted, you can either bottle it for storage in the refrigerator where it will keep for about a month, freeze it, or, you can process it in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes if using pint jars and 40 minutes if using quart-sized canning jars.

With thanks to: Chica Andaluza, “Up The Mountain Spicy Tomato Ketchup

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Notes

You may have noticed that the spice pouch was removed after simmering for 45 minutes. That’s because the tomatoes will continue to reduce for some time afterward and that will serve to concentrate all the flavors in that pot. To leave the spice pouch in the tomato mixture for too long could render the ketchup inedible. You can always adjust the seasoning at the end of the cooking, just as one does with the cayenne, salt, and pepper.

Living as far North as I do, finding good tasting tomatoes from now until Spring is pretty much impossible. Even so, I’ll still use off-season, or even canned, tomatoes to make ketchup during the Winter and Spring months, adding tomato paste to boost the tomato flavor. Although this version may not quite equal the taste of ketchup made from Summer’s best, it is still leagues ahead of any ketchup you might buy at a store.

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Grilled Chicken with Tomato Jam Glaze

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One last word about tomatoes …

In September, Marie posted a link to a recipe for tomato jam that used yellow heirloom tomatoes and basil. I spoke to Zia about my intention to try my hand at making the jam and that triggered a memory of Grandma making tomato jam when Mom & Zia were little girls. Grandma’s version didn’t use basil and, though the tomatoes she used would be considered “heirloom” by today’s standards, back then they were just “tomatoes.” Well, in an effort to bridge the gap between New and Old, I made tomato jam that weekend with yellow heirloom tomatoes but without the basil.  And the result? Like almost all the jams I’ve made, it goes very well with goat cheese. (Is there a jam or preserve that doesn’t go well with goat cheese?) Not only that but I was surprised to find out just how good it worked as a glaze for barbecued chicken. Next time, though, I’m adding a few red pepper flakes and a dash of hot sauce to the glaze. Of course, you can always serve it like my Grandma did for her girls: on a chunk of Italian bread.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

As a boy, vegetables were very much a part of my family’s diet. Whether picked fresh from Grandpa’s garden or selected at a grocery or market, you could count on a salad of fresh greens and at least one vegetable being served at every dinner.  Mom’s favorite, and frequent star at our supper table, was Swiss chard. Mom enjoyed it enough to commandeer a small patch of Grandpa’s garden so that she could grow her own.  Now that’s some serious chard love!  Very often, Mom would use a combination of chard & spinach to fill small pies, cacioni, from a recipe that came from Dad’s homeland, San Marino. Click HERE to check out the recipe for this family favorite.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you … 

Sausage Ravioli

Sausage Ravioli

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Crostini e Bruschette

A few weeks ago I posted my last recipe in the series of making cheese at home, Italian Mozzarella. Within that post were photos of crostini & bruschette and, with the holidays quickly approaching, I thought this the perfect time to share both recipes. Besides, if you were successful and made a couple of pounds of mozzarella, eventually you’re going to tire of eating it “by the chunk” — and that’s when these recipes will come into play.

First a definition of terms. The word crostini means little toasts, whereas bruschetta has as its origin bruscare, to char or roast. They sound pretty similar to me. I’ve always thought the difference to be in the bread used. When I make crostini, I use a baguette, thinly sliced on the diagonal. For bruschette, I use a thicker slice taken from a loaf of Italian bread. I toast both before piling on the fixin’s and sometimes pop them back into the oven afterward. It really does depend on what’s being used to top each off. And speaking of the fixin’s, you can use pretty much anything you like.  Just stick with fresh ingredients and you won’t go wrong.

About a year ago, I posted a recipe for Gorgonzola and Honey Bruschette. At the time, I mentioned that I often use my toaster to toast the bread beforehand and store it in airtight containers until needed later that day. This is particularly helpful when entertaining. It’s just one less thing to worry about.  No matter when you toast the bread, though, try to serve these bruschette directly after preparation or they may become sodden.

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Mozzarella and Tomato Bruschette Recipe

Ingredients

  • ⅔ inch (1.7 cm) slices of Italian bread
  • plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • garlic, minced
  • a few tbsp of sweet onion, diced
  • fresh mozzarella, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
  • fresh basil leaves, hand torn
  • Italian seasoning
  • olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • dried oregano
  • salt & pepper

Directions

  1. Slice bread, brush with olive oil, and toast lightly
  2. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, sautéing for about a minute. Do not let the garlic burn.
  3. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook until heated through.
  4. Remove from heat, add the basil, Italian seasoning, balsamic, and olive oil. Mix well and taste before seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  5. Add the cubed mozzarella once the tomato mixture has cooled to room temperature.
  6. When ready to serve, spoon some of the tomato-mozzarella mixture on top of each toasted bread slice, season lightly with salt and cracked black pepper, and garnish with a light sprinkling of dried oregano.

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Crostini alla Caprese Recipe

Ingredients

  • ½ inch (1.2 cm) thick slices of baguette, cut on the diagonal
  • cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • fresh mozzarella, cut in ¼ inch (.6 cm) slices
  • fresh basil leaves
  • olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • salt & pepper

Directions

  1. Slice bread, brush with olive oil, and toast lightly.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 400˚F (204˚ C).
  3. Place tomatoes in a bowl, season with salt & pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Place tomatoes on a baking sheet and then into the oven to roast for about 15 to 20 minutes. Do not allow to roast so long that the tomatoes completely collapse.
  5. Meanwhile, place a slice of fresh mozzarella and then a few small basil leaves atop each piece of toast.
  6. Remove tomatoes from the oven and when cool enough to handle, place one tomato half, cut-side down, on each piece of the toast with mozzarella and basil. If you prefer, add a light drizzle of olive oil and a few drops of red wine vinegar.  Serve immediately.

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Notes

These antipasti should be made using fresh mozzarella. No, you needn’t make it yourself and you can find it now in most large grocery stores. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the pre-shredded stuff used when making pizza. Fresh mozzarella is usually ball-shaped and is often packaged in water/whey. If you’re unsure, ask a person working at your store’s deli counter for assistance.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Since this post is somewhat party themed, I thought it best to resurrect a recipe that’s perfect when entertaining a large group. Cut into 3 inch squares, your guests will have no trouble munching on this bit of cheesecake while sipping on their cocktails, You can find the recipe for this Cherry Cheesecake Pizza by clicking HERE. If you need help deciding which cocktail(s) to serve, do what I do. Click HERE or HERE. While you’re there, be sure to take some time to check out both Greg’s and John’s blogs. You won’t be disappointed.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

The Ketchup That Came Down The Mountain

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The Proverbial Last Rose of Summer

“Sunset Celebration”

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Tomato with Bread Soup

Pappa al Pomodoro

Columbus Day is right around the corner and I can think of no better way to commemorate the day than to share a recipe that typifies traditional Italian cooking. I’ve mentioned in the past that very little goes to waste in an Italian kitchen, bread being a perfect example. Like elsewhere in Europe, bread is baked or bought daily and seldom, if ever, is it discarded because it’s stale. Day old bread is used to make everything from bread crumbs to a delicious Tuscan salad known as Panzanella. {That recipe features Michigan heirloom tomatoes (What else?) and is from Bam’s Kitchen, a wonderful blog whose author currently lives in Hong Kong and offers recipes from around the world.}  Today’s recipe, Pappa al Pomodoro, is another that takes advantage of not just day old bread but, also, the glut of home-grown tomatoes that many experience during Summer. It is a simple dish to prepare but, oh, so very satisfying.

I cannot speak for everyone but I will say that the majority of us, growing up in Italian households, at one time or another experienced the simple pleasure of eating a piece of bread that had just been dipped in Mom’s or Nonna’s simmering pot of tomato sauce. As a boy, Mom would dunk a piece of crusty bread into the pot, blow on it a few times to cool the sauce, and then hand it to me with a warning to be careful because it was still hot. As I got older, I became an expert at sneaking a piece of bread into the pot and then my mouth in one fell swoop without her noticing. (Yeah, right!). Unfortunately, the sauce was every bit as hot as it was years before and a burned mouth was very often punishment for my devious ways. Even so, the reward of a piece of sauce-soaked bread made the risks worth while. And today, far too many years later to mention, my favorite way of checking the seasonings of my tomato sauce is with a chunk of bread, though I’ve grown a little more patient and a burned palate is rare.

Understanding that bit of my personal history may help you understand why I so enjoy Pappa al Pomodoro. Often described as having the consistency of baby food, one might wonder why ever would anyone like this soup. Well, one taste and you’re once again standing next to Mom or Nonna, eagerly waiting for her to blow on a sauce drenched tidbit. Here, though, instead of just having a crust of bread, you have an entire bowl to savor. Better still, the fresh basil and grated cheese gives this dish a wonderful aroma. I’m telling you, if you liked pieces of sauce-dipped bread as a child, you’re going to really enjoy this soup as an adult.

When making this soup, be sure to use the ripest tomatoes you can find. In fact, if they’re a little over-ripe, that’s just fine. As for the bread, it’s best to use day old bread with a good crust; fresh bread just won’t do. I use a small loaf of ciabatta and it works perfectly. If you’ve no day old bread, you can use fresh if you slice it and put it into a warm oven for a few minutes. You’re not trying to toast the bread, merely dry it somewhat, mimicking the feel of bread that’s just past being fresh. This is necessary because dried bread will receive the sauce much more readily than fresh. Think back to when you were a child. The best “samples” resulted from bread that had been fully drenched in the sauce. The same is true here. Lastly, be sure to garnish each serving with olive oil, freshly grated cheese, and a hand-torn leaf or two of fresh basil, the aromas of which will add so much to the dish.

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Pappa al Pomodoro Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp olive ol
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • 2½ lbs of tomatoes, preferably plums, peeled, cored, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 cups vegetable stock – water may be substituted
  • about 9 oz of day old, crusty Italian bread, cut into cubes (I use a small ciabatta loaf.)
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • olive oil, grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and whole basil leaves for garnish

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 – 8 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking for another minute. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  2. Add tomatoes, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until tomatoes begin to break down, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the bread and stock to the pot, stirring until the bread is fully coated with the tomato mixture. Continue to simmer until the soup begins to have the consistency of  baby food.
  4. Hand tear the basil leaves, add to the pot, stir, and continue a low simmer for about 10 more minutes. Add more stock or water if it becomes too dry.
  5. Serve immediately, garnished with grated Pecorino Romano cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and a leaf or two of fresh basil.

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Notes

What if you live here, in Chi-town, and you want a bowl of Pappa al Pomodoro but it’s January. Fear not! Although fresh, vine ripened tomatoes are always preferable, you can make this soup with canned tomatoes just as easily. Instead of using the 2½ lbs. of tomatoes listed in the recipe’s ingredients, substitute one large can of San Marzano tomatoes, crushing them by hand before you add them to the pot.

Speaking of San Marzano tomatoes, shopping for a can of the real thing can be a daunting task. Many cans will claim to be filled with San Marzano tomatoes but, after close inspection of the labels, you’ll learn that they are mere plum tomatoes and not their more famous — and expensive — cousins. How do you tell the difference? Like authentic balsamic vinegar, San Marzano tomato sales and distribution are tightly controlled. Click HERE to learn what must be on a can’s label for all San Marzano tomatoes. By the way, if the canned tomatoes are crushed, chopped, or puréed, they are not true San Marzanos. See? Click on the link.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Italian Mozzarella!

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

With Columbus Day fast approaching, I thought it appropriate to take a look at not one but two posts from the past. The first will share my family’s recipe for a ravioli filling that consists of veal, pork, spinach, cheeses, and seasonings. The second will show you how to use a ravioli die to make the pasta pillows. Click HERE to see the ravioli filling recipe and  HERE to learn how to make the ravioli.

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Mom’s Tomato Antipasti

Even more simple than its predecessor, this is my second recipe post and it, too, comes from my childhood. I was raised in Detroit, in what we Chicagoans refer to as a “2-flat.” My family of five lived on the first floor and Zia’s family of five lived on the second. My Grandpa, Mom & Zia’s father, also lived “upstairs,” as did Zia’s mother-in-law, Nonna, on occasion whenever she visited from Canada. Every Summer, Grandpa’s world revolved around his garden, more specifically: his tomatoes. Early each Spring, he planted seeds that he had harvested from the largest beefsteak tomato of his previous year’s crop. A few weeks later, he would select at least 2 dozen of the best seedlings for planting within “his half” of the back yard. Sometime around mid-July, the first of the tomatoes would ripen and from that point until the first frost, we had fresh tomatoes whenever we wanted. Not so coincidentally, it was around mid-July that Mom’s tomato antipasti would make their first appearance of the season on our dinner table.

I’m sure that most are familiar with insalata caprese, where slices of tomato are adorned with slices of mozzarella and basil leaves. A drizzle of olive oil and, sometimes, a splash of vinegar complete this summertime favorite. Although similar, Mom’s dish has 1 ingredient too many for some palates, but that just means there’s more for me.

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Grandpa, His Tomatoes & Guard Dog, “Cookie”

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Mom’s Tomato Antipasti

yield: 1 platter

prep time: approx.  10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 or 3 large ripe tomatoes, evenly sliced (more may be required, depending upon the platter size)
  • 1 small can of anchovies in oil, drained and separated into fillets
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil (more may be required, depending upon the platter size)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (more may be required, depending upon the platter size)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Arrange the tomato slices in one layer across a serving platter. Season with salt & pepper.
  2. Separate the platter into halves and place 1 anchovy on each tomato slice within one of the halves.
  3. Sprinkle the entire platter with the chopped basil and parsley.
  4. Drizzle the entire platter lightly with extra virgin olive oil before adding a splash of red wine vinegar.
  5. Give a light sprinkling of parmesan cheese to the side of the platter that does NOT contain anchovies.
  6. Serve.

Variations

Taken as-is, this recipe comes with its own variation. If you like, you can separate the tray into 3 equal sections, prepare 2 sections as indicated above, and fill the 3rd with insalata caprese, as pictured above..

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